WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Minimize your spring "clean-up” to get started on a healthy landscape.
Unlike the interior of our homes, which can probably benefit from an intensive spring freshening, our landscapes often need much less from us in the spring than we may think.
Skip the leaf blower and leave decaying leaves in place. That leaf litter is providing cover for bumble bee queens just waking up from a long winter’s nap, caterpillars of butterflies nestled in the duff, and a whole host of invertebrates that will feed hungry birds and their chicks.
If you have a fungal disease plaguing your plant’s leaves, remove and dispose of those fallen leaves, otherwise, leave leaves in place to serve as nature’s mulch and compost - a much more sustainable choice than bringing in material from some other location.
Stagger your timing when cutting back the dead stems of flowering perennials and grasses – don’t cut back everything at once. Overwintering beneficial insects, like lady beetles, may just be emerging from the pithy stems they have called their winter homes.
Last year’s seed heads on grasses, sedges and flowering perennials can still provide a much needed meal to hungry birds. Cut a few and leave a few to be cut back on another day.
Do cut back any dead or diseased wood on trees and shrubs. It’s been a rough winter for many plants, rhododendrons in particular.
Plan Before You Shop
For a gardener, shopping for new plants in spring can be a temptation too hard to resist. Before you head out to your favorite nursery or seasonal plant sale, take an informal inventory of your plants and determine what your landscape really needs. Here are some ecological considerations:
- Do you have tall evergreens in your landscape that provide cover (especially important in winter) and nesting sites for birds?
- Have you planted in layers to offer habitat to birds and other wildlife – canopy trees, understory trees, tall shrubs, shorter shrubs, flowering perennials, grasses and sedges?
- Does your landscape provide food sources year-round for wildlife – seeds, nuts, acorns, berries, fruit, nectar and pollen?
- Do you have host plants for butterfly caterpillars, in addition to nectar plants for butterfly adults?
- Have you planted a succession of bloom for pollinators, from early spring through late fall, with flowering trees, shrubs and perennials?
- Does your landscape offer a wide range of flower types, shapes and sizes, accessible to different pollinators and beneficial insects?
- Have you emphasized regional native plants in your landscape that have evolved with wildlife that depends upon them? My tip - visit the Native Plant Center sale on April 25. Click here for details.
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial. When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.
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